Thursday, December 3, 2015

Module 15: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Book Summary: Charlie is a loner with some personal issues. However, he soon starts making a few new friends and coming out of his shell thanks to young love and Rocky Horror Picture Show. Still, there is something dark inside him that he fights to keep hidden.

APA Reference: Chbosky, S. (1999). The perks of being a wallflower. New York, NY: MTV/Pocket Books.

Impressions: The book can be difficult to read at times with a main character who is not entirely likable and some side characters that take some getting used to. The style of the book is interesting, as well, with it being written in letter form. The controversy behind the book includes its use of sex (and molestation), suicide, drugs, and other things that parents would find inappropriate for their teenagers to be reading about. However, I feel that the topics are common to teens and there is nothing overtly controversial for the age group and, in fact, are important for the age group.

Professional Review: Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angstthe right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlies no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous friend, Charlies letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlies family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when hes gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Kirkus Reviews. (2010). The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Book). [Review of the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from

Library Uses: An example to be shown at a high school during Banned Book Month.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Module 14: Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems

Book Summary: This is a book of reverso poems: Poems that can be read both forward and backwards. All of these poems tell two sides of various fairy tales.

APA Reference: Singer, M. (2010). Mirror Mirror. London, England: Dutton Children's Books.

Impressions: A fun and fascinating read. While some poems are better than others, most are delightful and fresh. All the fairy tales are familiar, meaning very few who read this book will be lost to the meaning of the poems. The best poems are those where one way is the hero and the reverse is the villain--the highlight being Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. 

Professional Review: This ingenious book of reversos, or poems which have one meaning when read down the page and perhaps an altogether different meaning when read up the page, toys with and reinvents oh-so-familiar stories and characters, from Cinderella to the Ugly Duckling. The five opening lines of the Goldilocks reverso read: “Asleep in cub’s bed / Blonde / startled by / Bears, / the headline read.” Running down the page side-by-side with this poem is a second, which ends with: “Next day / the headline read: / Bears startled / by blonde / asleep in cub’s bed.” The 14 pairs of poems—easily distinguished by different fonts and background colors—allow changes only in punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks, as Singer explains in an author’s note about her invented poetic form. “It is a form that is both challenging and fun—rather like creating and solving a puzzle.” Singer also issues an invitation for readers to try to write their own reversos on any topic. Matching the cleverness of the text, Masse’s deep-hued paintings create split images that reflect the twisted meaning of the irreverently witty poems and brilliantly employ artistic elements of form and shape—Cinderella’s clock on one side morphs to the moon on the other. A must-purchase that will have readers marveling over a visual and verbal feast.

Austin, P. (2010). Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems (Book). [Review of the book Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems, by Marilyn Singer]. Booklist, 106(9/10), 81.

Library Uses: Used during April's poetry month as an example of a type of poetry.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Module 13: Amulet: The Stonekeeper

Book Summary: The first book in a graphic novel series, Amulet: The Stonekeeper tells the story of a brother and sister named Emily and Navin. A few years after their father's death, they move to their great grandfather's remote home. While there, Emily discovers an old amulet. Her mom is quickly kidnapped by a monster, and Emily and Navin race after her to the rescue. After arriving in the parallel world, Emily discovers new powers, and the siblings find new friends, new dangers, and new responsibilities. 

APA Reference: Kibuishi, K. (2008). Amulet: The stonekeeper. New York, NY: Scholastic, Graphix.

Impressions: The artwork is great, reminiscent of a high-class manga style. The story is run-of-the-mill, at least at this point, but the characters are well written, and the action moves the book forward very quickly. Enough intrigue is left, as well, to make the reader want to continue on with the series to see what happens to the characters and to find out what is really going on.

Professional Review: Almost too clever and poignant, Amulet is, on the surface, about navigating the murky waters of adolescence and, beneath that, an exploration of abandonment and survival. Emily and Navin are lost children, literally lost in a dark, new world and struggling to save their mother, who has been kidnapped by a drooling, tentacled beast. With stellar artwork, imaginative character design, moody color and consistent pacing, this first volume's weakness lies in its largely disjointed storytelling. There is the strong, young, heroine; cute, furry, sidekicks; scary monsters--all extraordinary components, but pieced together in a patchwork manner. There is little hope in his dark world as Kibuishi removes Emily and Navin's frame of safety. Their hopes rest in a magic amulet that seems to be working in the interest of the children--until it suddenly isn't. The most frightening element of Amulet is the sense of insecurity we feel for Emily, fighting her way through uncharted terrain with no guide and no support system. This first volume of Amulet isn't a disappointment, but it does feel like a warmup to the main event. If anything, it's a clear indication that Kibuishi has just begun skimming the surface of his own talent.

Publishers Weekly. (2008). Amulet: The Stonekeeper (Book). [Review of the book Amulet: The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi]. Publishers Weekly, 255(4), 48.

Library Uses: The book series could be used to get reluctant readers, particularly boys, interested in reading by discussing and going through it with them.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Module 12: Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science

Book Summary: Phineas Gage is a biography detailing the life of Phineas Gage, a railway foreman who has a steel pipe go through his brain and lived. However, it forever changed his personality. He became a major study in medicine and psychology. The way the brain works and is affected by outside stimulus has fascinated many, and Phineas was the perfect example to study.

APA Reference: Fleischman, J. (2002). Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Impressions: A fascinating read about a fascinating case, Phineas Gage gives us details about the life of the man who forever changed brain science. One of the more interesting aspects of this book is actually the fact it's written in present tense, as if we are traveling through the life of Phineas Gage right now. There are also plenty of good pictures to show us various people involved as well as scientific explanation photographs

Professional Review: The fascinating story of the construction foreman who survived for 10 years after a 13-pound iron rod shot through his brain. Fleischman relates Gage's "horrible accident" and the subsequent events in the present tense, giving immediacy to the text. He avoids sensationalizing by letting the events themselves carry the impact. The straightforward description of Gage calmly chatting on a porch 30 minutes after the accident, for example, comes across as horrifying and amazing. The author presents scientific background in a conversational style and jumps enthusiastically into such related topics as phrenology, 19th-century medical practices, and the history of microbiology. He shows how Gage's misfortune actually played an intriguing and important role in the development of our knowledge of the brain. The present-tense narrative may cause occasional confusion, since it spans several time periods and dates are not always immediately apparent from the text. Illustrations include historical photographs; one showing the iron bar posed dramatically next to Gage's skull is particularly impressive. Other photos and diagrams help explain the workings of the brain. The work of Gage expert Malcolm Macmillan, cited in the list of resources, seems the likely main source for the quotes and details of Gage's life, but this is not clearly spelled out in the text or appendixes. Like Penny Colman's Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts (Holt, 1997) and James M. Deem's Bodies from the Bog (Houghton, 1998), Phineas Gage brings a scientific viewpoint to a topic that will be delightfully gruesome to many readers.

Engelfried, S. (2002). Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science (Book). [Review of the book Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science, by John Fleischman]. School Library Journal, 48(3), 247-248.

Library Uses: Used for a book talk regarding strong biographies for older elementary-aged children.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Module 11: An Egg is Quiet

Book Summary: With various illustrations of dozens and dozens of egg types next to informational text, this book gives a multitude of information about different eggs and why they are the way they are.

APA Reference: Aston, D. (2006). An egg is quiet. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Impressions: A superficial though fascinating look at the different types of eggs, An Egg is Quiet is an informational picture book for almost any age. There is not much depth or function to it outside of learning different egg styles and reasons behind it, along with what animals go with which eggs. 

Professional Review: This beautifully illustrated introduction to eggs resembles pages drawn from a naturalist's diary. The text, scrolled out in elegant brown ink, works on two levels. Larger print makes simple observations that, read together, sound almost like poetry: "An egg is quiet. . . . An egg is colorful. An egg is shapely." On each spread, words in smaller print match up with illustrations to offer more facts about bird and fish eggs across the animal spectrum. The illustrations are too detailed for read-alouds, but there's a great deal here to engage children up close. The succinct text will draw young fact hounds, particularly fans of Steve Jenkins' Biggest, Strongest, Fastest (1995) and his similar titles. Long's illustrations are elegant and simple, and the gallery of eggs, as brilliantly colored and polished as gems, will inspire kids to marvel at animals' variety and beauty. A spread showing X-ray views of young embryos growing into animal young makes this a good choice for reinforcing concepts about life cycles.

Engberg, G. (2006). An Egg is Quiet (Book). [Review of the book An Egg is Quiet, by Dianna Aston]. Booklist, 102(16), 48.

Library Uses: This book would be used for younger kids branching them over from picture books to non-fiction.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Module 10: Tomas and the Library Lady

Book Summary: Tomas is an immigrant child who works on farms with his family both in Texas and Iowa. One summer in Iowa, he befriends a local librarian who introduces him to the world of reading, changing his life forever.

APA Reference: Mora, P. (1997). Tomas and the library lady. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Impressions: What Tomas and the Library Lady has going for it best is its intermittent use of Spanish and English in order to teach Spanish language words. The story itself is alright if not underdeveloped. There is not much going on except for a boy reading a book about dinosaurs at a library and then to his migrant family. Based on a true story, there seems to be much more going on in the real version than in the children's book, as the fact Tomas excelled in life and education is far more interesting than the story given here.

Professional Review: A charming, true story about the encounter between the boy who would become chancellor at the University of California at Riverside and a librarian in Iowa. Tom†s Rivera, child of migrant laborers, picks crops in Iowa in the summer and Texas in the winter, traveling from place to place in a worn old car. When he is not helping in the fields, Tom†s likes to hear Papa Grande's stories, which he knows by heart. Papa Grande sends him to the library downtown for new stories, but Tom†s finds the building intimidating. The librarian welcomes him, inviting him in for a cool drink of water and a book. Tom†s reads until the library closes, and leaves with books checked out on the librarian's own card. For the rest of the summer, he shares books and stories with his family, and teaches the librarian some Spanish. At the end of the season, there are big hugs and a gift exchange: sweet bread from Tom†s's mother and a shiny new book from the librarianto keep. Col¢n's dreamy illustrations capture the brief friendship and its life-altering effects in soft earth tones, using round sculptured shapes that often depict the boy right in the middle of whatever story realm he's entered. 

Kirkus Reviews. (1997). Tomas and the Library Lady (Book). [Review of the book Tomas and the Library Lady, by Pat Mora]. Kirkus Reviews, Retrieved from

Library Uses: This book could be used to help bilingual or higher-level ESL students transition into reading English more.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Module 9: The Dollhouse Murders

Book Summary: Amy is your typical 12-year-old girl who just wants to hang out with friends or be alone. She definitely does not want to be with her mentally handicapped sister, Louann, who annoys her endlessly. One day, though, at her great grand-parents' house, Amy finds a dollhouse in the attic that continues to show her the crime scene of her great grand-parents' murder from thirty years prior. Eventually, with the help of her friend and her sister, Amy attempts to solve what really happened all those years ago and what is trying to fix things using that dollhouse now.

APA Reference: Wright, B.R. (1983). The dollhouse murders. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Impressions: Giving what is a very clever concept, The Dollhouse Murders excels on creativity and concept. However, while many have praised the book for its thrills and suspense, the dry writing style left a lot wanting. The characters were not interesting and were more often than not annoying. For a mystery or thriller to work, the characters have to be engaging--the reader needs to feel attached in order to want them to solve the case or make it through to the end of the story successfully. Despite the clever concept, this book did not leave much in terms of engagement.

Professional Review: Amy arranges to spend a few days alone with her Aunt Clare in the home once owned by her great grand-parents. She is particularly relieved to have some time for herself, free of having to care for her retarded sister, Louann. When she discovers an exquisite dollhouse in the attic, an exact replica of the family home, her aunt is unenthusiastic about her find and furious when she sees the placement of the dolls; years ago her grandparents had been murdered and the figures are now where the police found them the night of the crime. She accuses her niece of insensitivity in reproducing the scene, but the girl denies responsibility for moving the dolls. An emergency at home means Louann must also stay at Clare's and at first Amy is angry at having her plans to be alone shattered, but then the two girls discover the solution to the terrible crime. The combination of a beautiful, fascinating dollhouse, dark family secrets, ghostly events, danger and suspense are all sufficient to make this a likely choice for escape reading--Karen Harris, Department of Library Science, University of New Orleans

Harris, K., & Gerhardt, L.N. (1983). The Dollhouse Murders (Book). [Review of the book The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wright]. School Library Journal, 30(3), 84-85.

Library Uses: Focusing on story prediction skills, use this book to try and figure out the ending based on the clues earlier on.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Module 8: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Book Summary: In this post-apocalyptic horror/romance, Mary lives in a village surrounded by a fence that holds out the Unconsecrated--zombies. As things often do in these types of stories, everything goes south quickly for Mary when her mother is bitten, and then Mary gets stuck in the workings of a dystopian-esque society. With a love triangle and a journey into the dangerous and unknown, Mary ends up having to face the forest of hands and teeth, which is where all the zombies reside.

APA Reference: Ryan, C. (2009). The forest of hands and teeth. New York: Delacorte Press.

Impressions: Zombies are incredibly popular in this day and age, and there is a high standard of quality that goes with the genre when it comes to serious attempts. At the same time, dystopians and love triangles are also incredibly popular, at least in the young adult world, and the standard of quality there is not so high. Fortunately, Ryan does more than just meet in the middle. Her writing style is gripping, mysterious, and suspenseful. The fact the book is written in first person, present tense allows an extra fear factor that anything could happen and the main character could potentially die, as well--something that cannot happen when writing in past tense, and something that's far more personal than third person. Overall, this has a lot of elements young adults look for in supernatural fiction and easily appeals to the target demographic.

Professional Review: Gr 9 Up-- Mary knows little about the past and why the world now contains two types of people: those in her village and the undead outside the fence, who prey upon the flesh of the living. The Sisters protect their village and provide for the continuance of the human race. After her mother is bitten and joins the Unconsecrated, Mary is sent to the Sisters to be prepared for marriage to her friend Harry. But then the fences are breached and the life she has known is gone forever. Mary; Harry; Travis, whom Mary loves but who is betrothed to her best friend; her brother and his wife; and an orphaned boy set out into the unknown to search for safety, answers to their questions, and a reason to go on living. In this sci-fi/horror novel, the suspense that Ryan has created from the very first page on entices and tempts readers so that putting the book down is not an option. The author skillfully conceals and reveals just enough information to pique curiosity while also maintaining an atmosphere of creepiness that is expected in a zombie story. Some of the descriptions of death and mutilation of both the Unconsecrated and the living are graphic. The story is riveting, even though it leaves a lot of questions to be explained in the sequel.

Banna, D. (2009). The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Book). [Review of the book The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan]. School Library Journal, 55(5), 117-118.

Library Uses: Headlining a zombie/monster display for Halloween.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Module 7: Because of Winn-Dixie

Book Summary: During a Florida summer, 10-year-old Opal finds a stray dog she names Winn-Dixie, after the store she found it in. Over the summer, Winn-Dixie helps Opal meet the townspeople--since she recently moved there and has no friends. She meets and befriends the local librarian and an older woman the neighborhood boys think is a witch. She also struggles to accept her mother's abandonment.

APA Reference: DiCamillo, K. (2000). Because of Winn-Dixie. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Impressions: Because of Winn-Dixie is a simplistically written book that attempts to be more like To Kill a Mockingbird than it is. The characters are straight-forward and mostly flat, with a few exceptions--such as Opal herself and her father. The other characters share their backstories, which mainly serves as the nearly non-existent plot of the book. This is a book more focused on introducing characters than it is about telling a story. However, the morals here are strong, dealing with abandonment and acceptance--whether that is acceptance of a personal loss or accepting others who were written off too quickly. Because of this, it is a good book for younger readers who are attempting to transition from easy chapter books to more difficult fare. 

Professional Review: Gr 4-6 --India Opal Buloni, 10, finds a big, ugly, funny dog in the produce department of a Winn-Dixie grocery store. She names him accordingly and takes him home to meet her father, a preacher. Her daddy has always told her to help those less fortunate, and surely Winn-Dixie is in need of a friend. Opal needs one, too. Since moving to Naomi, FL, she has been lonely and has been missing her mother more than usual. When she asks her father to tell her 10 things about her mother, who left the family when Opal was three, she learns that they both have red hair, freckles, and swift running ability. And, like her mother, Opal likes stories. She collects tales to tell her mother, hoping that she'll have a chance to share them with her one day. These stories are lovingly offered one after another as rare and polished gems and are sure to touch readers' hearts. They are told in the voice of this likable Southern girl as she relates her day-to-day adventures in her new town with her beloved dog. Do libraries need another girl-and-her-dog story? Absolutely, if the protagonist is as spirited and endearing as Opal and the dog as lovable and charming as Winn-Dixie. This well-crafted, realistic, and heartwarming story will be read and reread as a new favorite deserving a long-term place on library shelves.

James, H.F. (2000). Because of Winn-Dixie (Book). [Review of the book Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo]. School Library Journal, 46(6), 143.

Library Uses: This can be taught with a lesson on Newbery books and why students think is the reason it might have won.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Module 6: The Day the Crayons Quit

Book Summary: The book is about a child's crayons that one day decide to petition and complain about how they are either overworked or underused.

APA Reference: Daywalt, D. (2013). The day the crayons quit. New York: Philomel Books.

Impressions: The Day the Crayons Quit is a humorous look at anthropomorphic crayons who feel fed up with their current situations. Most of the crayons feel either over- or under- worked. Some of them, interestingly, become fed up with each other and request help to get the other crayons to stop complaining or bickering. The book is a fun take on why a child's plaything would get upset like people would. Each crayon has its own personality that matches its color and why it would be disgruntled. This is definitely a book to recommend for elementary-aged kids.

Professional Review: Although the crayons in this inventive catalogue stop short of quitting, most feel disgruntled. The rank and file express their views in letters written to a boy, Duncan. Red complains of having to “work harder than any of your other crayons” on fire trucks and Santas; a beige crayon declares, “I’m tired of being called ‘light brown’ or ‘dark tan’ because I am neither.” White feels “empty” from Duncan’s white-on-white coloring, and a “naked” Peach wails, “Why did you peel off my paper wrapping?” Making a noteworthy debut, Daywalt composes droll missives that express aggravation and aim to persuade, while Jeffers’s (This Moose Belongs to Me) crayoned images underscore the waxy cylinders’ sentiments: each spread features a facsimile of a letter scrawled, naturally, in the crayon’s hue; a facing illustration evidences how Duncan uses the crayon, as in a picture of a giant elephant, rhino, and hippo (Gray laments, “That’s a lot of space to color in all by myself”). These memorable personalities will leave readers glancing apprehensively at their own crayon boxes. Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Jeff Dwyer, Dwyer & O’Grady. (June)

Publishers Weekly. (2013). The Day the Crayons Quit (Book). [Review of the book The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt]. Publishers Weekly, 44.

Library Uses: This book could be used in conjunction with a lesson to humanize other inanimate objects and talk about what they might complain or be upset about.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Module 5: Esperanza Rising

Book Summary: Esperanza comes from a wealthy Mexican family. However, when her father is killed by bandits, her Tio Luis gains custody of their house and money and wants to marry Esperanza's mother. Esperanza and her mother, with the help of some servants, escape to the United States, but it's during the Great Depression. They struggle to survive in the area at this time, going through many difficulties and hardships along the way.

APA Reference: Ryan, P.M. (2000). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic, Inc. 

Impressions: The book was a difficult read in that it was depressing to read so many hardships Esperanza had to suffer through. Even her trip to America is stressful and difficult, cramped in a tight space in fear of being caught. The book is written simply, however, and elegantly. There are also elements of Spanish sprinkled throughout, oftentimes with translations immediately following. This gives readers a subtle bilingual lesson while also reading a well-written riches-to-rags story.

Professional Review: Gr 6-9 --Ryan uses the experiences of her own Mexican grandmother as the basis for this compelling story of immigration and assimilation, not only to a new country but also into a different social class. Esperanza's expectation that her 13th birthday will be celebrated with all the material pleasures and folk elements of her previous years is shattered when her father is murdered by bandits. His powerful stepbrothers then hold her mother as a social and economic hostage, wanting to force her remarriage to one of them, and go so far as to burn down the family home. Esperanza's mother then decides to join the cook and gardener and their son as they move to the United States and work in California's agricultural industry. They embark on a new way of life, away from the uncles, and Esperanza unwillingly enters a world where she is no longer a princess but a worker. Set against the multiethnic, labor-organizing era of the Depression, the story of Esperanza remaking herself is satisfyingly complete, including dire illness and a difficult romance. Except for the evil uncles, all of the characters are rounded, their motives genuine, with class issues honestly portrayed. Easy to booktalk, useful in classroom discussions, and accessible as pleasure reading, this well-written novel belongs in all collections.

Goldsmith, F. (2000). Esperanza Rising (Book). [Review of the book Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan]. School Library Journal, 46(10), 171.

Library Uses: Tie into history lessons of the Great Depression from multiple perspectives, in this case the Mexican perspective.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Module 4: The One and Only Ivan

Book Summary: The book follows a gorilla named Ivan who was captured from the Congo and grew up in the United States, now residing at a run-down mall at a low-quality circus. He understands English and loves art. But when a new baby elephant named Ruby arrives at the circus, Ivan befriends and watches over her, eventually concocting a plan to help her escape this prison and get to a better place.

APA Reference: Applegate, K. (2011). The one and only Ivan. New York: HarperCollins Children.

Impressions: Told entirely from the perspective of Ivan the gorilla, The One and Only Ivan gives us a unique story dealing with friendship and loss mixed with a little prison break. The story might be difficult for the younger elementary age group. The lettering is big, and the chapters are short, but the themes and ideas are heavy. The book is oftentimes depressing as it deals with murdered (animal) families, kidnapped animals, death, mistreatment, torture, emotional pain, and more. It sometimes feels like an adult book wrapped in the guise of a children's book. But while it is written and executed well, I am not entirely sure how it would be received by a younger audience who is not mentally or emotionally prepared for such topics. However, it does carry good morals to teach children, such as perseverance and bravery.

Professional Review: How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human--except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers' passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.
Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author's note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates, (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Kirkus Reviews. (2012). The one and only Ivan (Book). [Review of the book The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate]. Best Fiction & Children's Books, 45-46.

Library Uses: With a heavy discussion of art within the book, this novel could be used with an assignment where students have to draw scenes from the book and how they picture the event in their heads.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Module 3: Lon Po Po

Book Summary: After three girls' mother goes to visit their sickly grandmother, a wolf disguises itself as their grandmother--Po Po--in order to sneak in and eat them. But the girls are a bit too crafty for the wolf.

APA Reference: Young, E. (1989). Lon Po Po. New York: Penguin Putnam.

Impressions: In this Chinese retelling of Little Red-Riding Hood, there is a unique twist on the tale where rather than one girl who meets a stranger (wolf) in the woods on the way to grandma's house, we have three girls who are left home alone and must deal with a home invasion. It's a familiar tale story-wise that is altered just enough to warrant a new retelling, particularly with the craftiness of the girls. But as this is also a Caldecott winner, so the true star of the story is the artwork. With gorgeous water color art fit within a graphic novel panel styling, this is one memorably visual book.

Professional Review: Grade 1-5-- A gripping variation on Red Riding Hood that involves three little sisters who outsmart the wolf ( lon or long in Cantonese) who has gained entry to their home under the false pretense of being their maternal grandmother ( Po Po ). The clever animal blows out the candle before the children can see him , and is actually in bed with them when they start asking the traditional "Why, Grandma!" questions. The eldest realizes the truth and tricks the wolf into letting them go outside to pick gingko nuts , and then lures him to his doom. The text possesses that matter-of-fact veracity that characterizes the best fairy tales. The watercolor and pastel pictures are remarkable: mystically beautiful in their depiction of the Chinese countryside, menacing in the exchanges with the wolf, and positively chilling in the scenes inside the house. Overall, this is an outstanding achievement that will be pored over again and again.

Philbrook, J. (1989). Lon Po Po (Book). [Review of the book Lon Po Po, by Ed Young]. School Library Journal, 35(16), 97.

Library Uses: Used to discuss fairy tales and/or interpretations around the world.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Module 2: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Book Summary: Alexander knows he's going to have a really bad day when he wakes up with gum in his hair. Of course, things just get worse as minor annoyances build on top of each other to build one really big, terrible day.

APA Reference: Viorst, J., & Cruz, R. (Illustrator). (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Impressions: On a first reading, "Alexander..." is a bothersome read about a boy with a bad attitude who throws a day-long fit for no major reasons and with no resolution. Upon further reflection, however, I find the book to be much smarter than originally perceived. The book takes a look at how anybody can feel like they have had the worst day ever when, in fact, it's been merely a culmination of inconsequential annoyances that have built up on each other to create a breaking point. Everybody has had days like that where just waking up in the morning starts you off on the wrong foot and everything seems to continually go wrong from there. It's a good reminder that adults are not the only ones who have days like that, either.

Professional Review: In the spiky spirit of Sunday Morning (1969) but more truly attuned to a child's point of view, Viorst reviews a really aggravating (if not terrible, horrible, and very bad) day in the life of a properly disgruntled kid who wakes up with gum in his hair and goes to bed after enduring lima beans for dinner and kissing on T.V.

At school, "Mrs. Dickens liked Paul's picture of sailboat better than my picture of the invisible castle," and at lunch, "guess whose mother forgot to put in dessert?" After school "my mom took us all to the dentist and Dr. Fields found a cavity just in me," and there is worse to come. It's no wonder the kid's ready to move to Australia, but in the end, "My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia."
If Alexander's mother is smart to offer casual sympathy without phoney consolation, Cruz and Viorst accord readers the same respect.
Kirkus Reviews. (2012). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Retrieved from 

Library Uses: Do a book talk, particularly with younger students, and to teach about how we all have bad days sometimes. Lead into a discussion about bad days students have had.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Module 1: We Are In A Book!

Book Summary: Gerald (an elephant) and Piggie (a pig) are friends who realize they are, in fact, characters in a book. They decide to play tricks on the reader but start to panic when they realize the book eventually must come to an end.

APA Reference: Willems, M. (2010). We are in a book!: An Elephant & Piggie book. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Impressions: This book is fantastically funny and creative. When the characters realize they are characters in a book, there is at first fear--at least from Gerald--which soon turns to unadulterated glee. The simple use of the word "banana" to incite laughter from the characters is infectious. Seeing the ensuing hilarity from the two and how such basic ideas are utilized to poke fun at both the reader and the function of a book is rather original, at least for a children's book. The meta qualities of the book, like talking to the reader or even peeling the page corner back to see a future page number is quite fun. The Elephant & Piggie books are relatively popular among children due to their unique style and graphic novel format, so seeing the characters become aware of their surroundings will make for a good treat for fans and non-fans of the series alike.

Professional Review: In their latest pairing, Elephant and Piggie are finally ready to get meta. Realizing that their trademark blank background is, in fact, a page, the duo has a blast convincing the reader to say funny things out loud—until Piggie mentions that the book will soon end. Cue Elephant’s existential crisis: “WHEN WILL THE BOOK END!?!” From there on, it’s a cute—but never too heady—play on the physical object that the reader is holding, including a bit where Piggie appears to flip the pages forward to get a sense of how much time they have left. Willems’ satisfying (if self-serving) solution? Read it again! Preschool-Grade 2.

Kraus, D. (2010). We are in a book! [Review of the book We are in a book! by Mo Willems]. Booklist, 107(2), 71.

Library Uses: This book can be used to help teach the parts of a book--words, pictures, pages, page numbers, etc., and how they work together to make a functional book.